How to Start a Travel Service

Types of Services

The types of services typically offered by a travel professional include:

  • Offering one-stop shopping for all travel arrangements
  • Creating itineraries and travel schedules that mesh with clients' interests
  • Ferreting out the best prices and schedules
  • Booking airline tickets and reserving seats
  • Booking cruises and cruise/tours
  • Reserving hotels and other accommodations
  • Arranging for rental vehicles and other ground transportation
  • Creating specialty tour packages and possibly serving as the tour leader
  • Arranging customized events, like conventions or destination weddings
  • Offering travel insurance
  • Advising clients about passport/visa requirements, travel advisories, inoculation needs and other domestic and international travel requirements
  • Acting as a travelers' advocate (fighting for consumers' rights; assisting travelers with special needs, intervening with suppliers when problems arise)
  • Coordinating the million or so other details necessary to ensure clients' satisfaction

A Day in the Life
No matter which types of services you decide to offer, there are certain tasks you can expect to do regularly, if not daily, in the course of running your new business. In addition to booking airlines and reserving hotel rooms, both of which are the mainstays of a travel business, those tasks include:

Qualifying clients: Done either by phone, online or in person, you'll find out where your clients want to go, what they want to see, and what they want to pay, then determine whether you have the right product or service available to fulfill those needs. Other pertinent info you'll want to gather includes how they want to travel (air, rail, etc.), how long they'll want to stay, when they want to go, how many people will be traveling, and whether there are any seniors or children who might qualify for travel discounts.

Maintaining records about clients' travel preferences: It's helpful to use a database to track information about clients' preferences (including transportation seating and hotel smoking vs. nonsmoking preferences), as well as frequent flier number(s), hotel amenities needs, and other factors you can refer back to so you can provide a customized travel experience every time.

Researching travel destinations: Regardless of whether you've visited a particular destination or not, you'll need to keep up with the changes (both good and bad), attractions and innovations in the most popular tourist areas, as well as explore the new ones your clients mention. Of course, the internet has made the process of researching a breeze.

Managing your website/online leads: Speaking of the internet, pretty much every business owner needs to have a website these days, and it needs to be fresh and updated regularly so it continues to attract traffic. While you may decide to use a contract web designer/administrator to look after your site, you may also be able to do the updating yourself. Additionally, if your site is your travel business, you'll need to check e-mail often to keep up with requests for information, brochures and those all-important travel reservations.

Handling office administration: This includes answering the phone, opening mail, reading e-mail, handling accounts payables/receivables and paying bills.

Reviewing business reports: You need to keep track of income and profit and loss statements and the other paperwork that keeps you apprised of the health of your business.

Purchasing: There are always office supplies to buy and brochures and travel guides to order.

Overseeing staff: When you're just starting out it's almost always better to hold off on hiring staff, but if it's unavoidable because of the nature or anticipated volume of your travel business, you'll have to spend some time managing your employees. Tasks may include creating work schedules, managing payroll and refereeing when disagreements break out. This also applies if your staff is not onsite, in which case you may have to make site visits from time to time to check things out.

Pursuing professional development opportunities: This can run the gamut from taking a seminar at your local community college to pursuing a degree in hospitality services.

Networking: Besides hobnobbing with other travel industry professionals, you'll want to get involved with local organizations like the chamber of commerce, the Rotary Club and other civic organizations, both as a way to pick up tips and advice that can help you do business better and as a way to generate leads and referrals for new business.

Taking fam trips: OK, so we downplayed the likelihood that you'll be able to travel on someone else's dime. But you'll still need to travel from time to time on these "familiarization" trips to learn firsthand about what's new and exciting in travel, what popular destinations offer, and so on. Seasoned travel business owners try to lump a few destinations into one trip to limit the amount of time they spend on the road (and away from the business, where the money is made). Others, like Susan Tindell, a Wisconsin travel franchisee, allow staff to take the trips and report back on their findings. Tindell offers such trips as a job perk and actually earmarks a certain amount of money every year per employee for this purpose.

How to Start a Travel Service

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